When Marvel’s Ultimate imprint proved to be a hit, it wasn’t long before readers were anticipating re-interpretations of classic Marvel characters and moments. The arrival of Galactus is definitely among the most famous Marvel stories, and it was almost a certainty that it would be retold in some fashion in the Ultimate universe. Of course, it was obvious that things would be different this time to avoid being redundant (why tell the same tale all over again?) and since a few of the elements of the Galactus character seems a bit silly by today’s standards—a cosmic world-devouring entity that looks like a big guy with a purple pope’s hat? It wasn’t until the final issue of the Ultimate Nightmare mini-series was released that the presence of Galactus (or Gah Lak Tus as he’s called in this version) was revealed to the Ultimate Marvel universe.
In Ultimate Extinction, the story that began in Ultimate Nightmare and developed in Ultimate Secret concludes with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its allies facing the end of the world as they scramble to defend the Earth from a space-faring life form that has already destroyed countless worlds. The X-Men’s attempt to reach it telepathically proves to be perilous, the Ultimates realizes fighting it the way they battle most threats is futile and Reed Richards has a solution that is terrifies him as much as Gah Lak Tus. But what does this have to do with a P.I. named Misty Knight and her investigation of a mysterious cult?
Though the two mini-series preceding it were a bit disappointing, mostly because they felt like they were just building up to this mini-series, Ultimate Extinction delivers an exciting finale to the Ultimate Galactus trilogy. I always find that Warren Ellis’ greatest talent is bringing a sense of awe to science fiction that the genre has been missing lately. Ellis manages to give the more fantastical elements of his stories rich detail without losing a sense of enigmatic wonder.
He puts that talent to use here creating a brand new Gah Lak Tus, a space-faring being composed of smaller ship-like organisms. This Gah Lak Tus destroys planets by sending its herald to soften up each world by convincing the inhabitants to accept their doom, and then attacks all sentient creatures on psychic and biological levels before destroying the planet itself. What’s even more terrifying is that its motivation is nothing more than unfathomable fear, disgust and hatred towards other sentient forms of life. While many Marvel characters have been cleverly rewritten in the Ultimate universe, Ellis gives an entity that is more than just a powerhouse alien-God-thing, and he gives the readers a truly clever and satisfying challenge for our protagonists. And rather than simply using the Ultimate Nullifier as a deus ex machina to save the Earth as in the original tale, Ellis crafts some clever strategies for our heroes to use against this seemingly unstoppable foe.
Warren Ellis also does a great job in presenting an apocalyptic atmosphere through the book. Some of the best moments include Captain America finding himself questioning his faith in God, wondering how a just God could allow a horror like Gah Lak Tus to exist, and Reed Richards having a crisis of conscience after discovering that his method to save the Earth will have some fearful consequences after it’s used. While he handles the characters rather well, I have a bit of a problem with his introduction of Ultimate Misty Knight. She is a great reinterpretation of a C-list (at best) character, but the problem is that she is conspicuously absent in the final chapter. It feels a bit awkward to see her such a prominent role in the earlier chapters with no real closure for the character by the story’s end.
The art by Brandon Peterson, which is reminiscent of great Ultimate artists Bryan Hitch and Adam Kubert, is top notch. But be warned, if you have something against crosshatching, this is definitely not your book. The art is great but readers might find Peterson’s shading by way of lines to be rather distracting. Also, some of Peterson’s line use is a little unclear in that whenever the Silver Surfer is attacked physically, there is a set of impact lines around him. Because of the way they were used (right before a fire extinguisher falls on him and right after a bullet hits him), I first assumed it was an impressive representation of telekinetic ability, but it now strikes me as an awkward representation of plain old kinetic force. Crosshatching and impact lines aside, Peterson does an impressive job on this book, including a notably chilling scene featuring Reed Richard’s holographic Armageddon scenario as well as some spectacularly choreographed action scenes including a couple of great fights between the Ultimates and the Silver Surfer.
Though Ultimate Extinction is a retelling of a familiar Marvel adventure, Warren Ellis and Brandon Peterson don’t allow the book to become predictable. While the previous two mini-series in the trilogy were relatively disappointing, Extinction works because it mixes classic Marvel super-heroics with a dire atmosphere akin to the Quartermass serials. Like Quartermass, the Marvel heroes face an unstoppable otherworldly threat that needs to be destroyed in a manner that fists alone can’t deal with. While we’ve seen the classic Marvel characters face God-like characters many times (the Beyonder, Korvac, Mad Jim Jaspers), it’s refreshing to see the Ultimate characters facing the end of the world with fear and panic rather than it feeling pedestrian as it often does in the regular Marvel continuity. And to me, that’s the advantage of the Ultimate books: bringing back the excitement to beloved but overly familiar universe.